November 14, 2009

Reply by Ramon Vila Vernis to Joseph Ransdell’s objection:


Thank you very much for your comments. Of course, you are right in your reading of the passage you quote. On checking the matter I find that I mistakenly shortened the quotation in my paper: it shouldn't be Ess II, 37-38, but 35-38. That is certainly a mistake I want to correct, since in page 35 Peirce says:

"But there is a criticism to be made upon almost all philosophic systems beginning with Plato's Doctrine of Ideas. Plato before he went to Socrates had been a student of the Heraclitean Cratylus. And the consequence of that accidental circumstance is that almost every philosopher from that day to this has been infected with one of the two great errors of Heraclitus, namely with the notion that Continuity implies Transitoriness." We can infer from here that Plato's philosophy was at some point infected with this notion, so much so that he passed it on to us.

However, in Plato's "last period", he came "to see, if not that the Eternal Essences are continuous, at least, that there is an order of affinity among them, such as there is among Numbers. Thus, at last, the Platonic Ideas became Mathematical Essences, not possessed of Actual Existence but only of a Potential Being quite as Real..." It seems then that the doctrine of ideas is infected with Heraclitus' mistake, but that Plato corrected it to a great extent when he substituted numbers for ideas. And it seems that Plato did not hold that the Eternal Essences (i.e. the Ideas) were continuous before, which would make it reasonable to assume they were discrete. Strangely enough, Plato seems to correct two mistakes when Peirce had only spoken of one, since in line with his substitution of numbers for ideas he also substitutes potential for actual existence.

In the passage actually quoted in my paper (page 37), Peirce alludes to the same positions he had held in the passage before by saying that "I think it most unfortunate that [Plato] should in his most brilliant works have eviscerated his Ideas of those two elements which especially render ideas valuable", thus (inversely) stating again that those two later corrections that make valuable his "definitive philosophy" are absent from his "most brilliant works", that is, those that contain "the doctrine of ideas".

There is a tricky point in identifying which is the second "error of Heraclitus", since Peirce didn't expressly identify it in the passage before, and now says that "...Plato's definitive philosophy... results from the correction of that error of Heraclitus which consisted in holding the continuous to be Transitory and also from making the being of the idea potential." I certainly agree with you in interpreting the “holding of the continuous to be Transitory” as Heraclitus’ position, but the “making of the being of the idea potential” as Plato’s position. It is no doubt one of the worst sentences I have ever read in Peirce, and it seems to have mislead the editor of the book (see note 24, from page 35).

To conclude, I think we can affirm that Heraclitus made two mistakes, one of which consists in identifying continuity with transitoriness. Plato did share this mistake and passed it over to us, though he later corrected it (though that part didn't reach us as loud and clear as the other). As Plato never favored transitoriness, we can assume that he understood his ideas in discrete terms in his mistaken period. The second mistake from Heraclitus is nowhere stated. By implication, it could seem that it consists in making the being of the Idea actual instead of potential, but in that case it is weird that Peirce makes such contortions to avoid stating it as such. In any case, it seems clear that Plato did make this last mistake (the second in Plato's count, at least) in his "most brilliant works", passed it on to us, and later corrected it.